HR and Teams in Global Organizations

Toby is in HR, which technically means he works for Corporate. So he’s really not a part of our family.
– Michael Scott (“The Office”)

Teams are complicated in domestic environments, and are even more complicated in global organizations when multiple languages and cultures are involved, spread across large distances. Jay Galbraith writes that “the long-term human resources role is to build social capital by creating richly connected interpersonal networks across the organization” (2000, p.119). Is this asking too much? Perhaps. HR often sees itself as the enforcers of the organization; the unbendable glue that protects it from litigation and unscrupulous employees. But shouldn’t HR be a strategic partner in everything the organization does? Galbraith also argues that HR needs to see their role as one of building and valuing personal networks. Galbraith is probably correct, but how does the average employee go about doing this? I have previously written about the “cocktail party” design of organizations that values and incorporates social networking into its design, but an intentional social networking structure still requires training. How do organizations train their employees to navigate this complex web? This is where HR has an open-ended opportunity to provide essential strategic training to employees on how to work and network cross-culturally, and how to work effectively on cross-cultural teams.

HR is a necessary aspect of any large organization, especially global ones. Understanding labour laws and protecting management from management decisions is important, but only if HR is fully integrated into the organization’s strategy. A “silo” methodology of HR will hinder global growth for organizations. An intentionally integrated methodology, that finds and prepares the current and future workforces, will help bolster growth and provide substantial contributions to the organization. This methodology should include a strategic focus on increasing global leadership competencies through travel, teams, training and transfers. HR departments that do this will be perfectly situated to become that strategic global partner in the 21st Century. This focus will also help make HR more a part of the family, and limit the number of “Toby’s” in global organizations.

Galbraith, J.R. (2000). Designing the global corporation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Vanderpyl, T.H. (2010, December). Cocktail parties and organizational design in the 21st century. WeLEAD Online Magazine. Download here.


Art of HR: Forecasting Talent Trends

What will the workforce look like in ten years? 20th Century HR practices were designed for hierarchical companies in stable markets, and from a limited resources paradigm of view. 21st Century HR Departments must be designed for unstable markets, and from an unlimited resources point of view. Marketplaces have few geographical limits now, and companies require globally minded knowledge workers to capitalize on those markets, wherever they might be. One large organizations I studied in my Doctoral research has offices around the world and they maintain a high-potential list of their top performers. In 2009, 15% of the high-performers on this list spoke a second language or had significant international experience. In 2010, 38% did. In 2011, 51% did. This HR leader expected that number to continue to grow as his organization continued to expand into global markets, and he has adapted their recruitment initiatives to the information he obtains by studying their top performers.

Effective HR departments use all kinds of information to better their organizations. This information gathering is somewhat like intelligence operatives in far-off locations. They gather tidbits of information that when compiled with dozens or hundreds of other tidbits from other operatives, help to prevent catastrophes from happening. I am not advocating for Recruiters to become CIA agents, but they do need to understand their role in gathering information that will help the organization advance its mission. For example, while meeting with a candidate, they might learn that he or she has had ten different Recruiters call her in the past month about working in a different industry. That one tidbit may not tell the Recruiter anything, but if she hears a similar story from a few more candidates, it might be an indication that the industry mentioned is preparing to ramp up staffing for potential expansions. That in turn may mean that industry will begin actively headhunting certain professionals very soon. If this information is confirmed, the organization can then begin planning to head off these headhunters, perhaps by increasing compensation for the sought after professionals or by finding other ways to retain them. Rather than reacting to losing ten hard-to-find professionals, the HR Department can develop specific strategies to prevent losing those ten employees to bidding wars in the first place. The HR Department could also propose over-hiring those professionals now before a bidding war drives the market value of their salaries upwards.

Forecasting talent trends is complex, but it starts with gathering useful intelligence, something Recruiters are in the perfect place to do. I suspect this intelligence gathering, if used effectively, could also help the organization thrive in many other ways as well, as we adapt to the ever-changing environment global around us. And HR leaders who find a way to understand the mass of information around them, organize it, and turn it into something useful for the organization to benefit from…may be the most sought-after HR Professionals in the future.

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, “The Art of HR”. For my final Doctoral project, I researched how Top Employers provide effective HR services to their organizations. I compiled my results into this book. Please email me directly if you would like a copy.

Why HR professionals struggle, and need to become intrapreneurial

Harpaul Sambhi from Careerify posted a very intriguing article about the need for HR Pros to be intrapreneurial. I heard Harpaul speak at the HRIA conference recently, and he definitely has a refreshing perspective on technology and recruiting. The following comment really jumped out:

Are HR vendors so behind the time they don’t know how to engage their buyers? Is HR truly dead, as some have speculated in the past? Or are those that run HR not entrepreneurial enough to build a business case to innovate their company? The world needs more entrepreneurs or, at the very least, “intrepreneurs.” HR needs to create a stronger voice that proves to the C-suite it isn’t a “cost center.” HR should report into the CEO, and not the CFO. We need to push our technology vendors, forcing them to build innovative processes that are intuitive for the true end-user, which is the employee or candidate, and not for HR. Vendors need to support us with metrics that predict the ideal candidate, trends on performance and identify star employees. We need to stop being conservative and set aside a small amount of budget for risk. Finally, we need to stop looking at our department, and start thinking about the overall business.

That last sentence is so true, and if we can figure out how to do that, HR Pros will add unlimited value to their organizations.

HR and Limiting Toxicity

John Gardner once wrote “pity the leader who is caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.” HR leaders can unfortunately easily be both extremes to the other leaders in the organization, and they polarize organizational views of HR when they do so. HR leaders can unlovingly criticize managers who fail to lead effectively. They can also uncritically support managers who abuse employees through their leadership roles.

Jean Lipman‐Blumen, in her book, The Allure of Toxic Leaders, describes the complexities of working for a toxic leader and the psychological damage these leaders can impart on their followers. One common element of toxic leaders is that they quash the feedback from those around them; ironically, when these leaders fall, it is many times because they ignored that feedback. I believe that HR Departments play an extremely important role in measuring the toxicity within their organizations. Effective HR leaders are both loving and critical, and are able to provide useful and pragmatic information to back up their feedback to managers.

HR leaders must have the relational credibility to walk into a manager’s office, close the door, and explain his or her effect on the organization. This must be done with a servant’s heart, but also a shrewd heart. At times, the HR leader must also recommend letting toxic leaders go from the organization, no matter what job title the leader has. This delicate tightrope act is difficult, but is a required role for HR leaders to walk. When they fail to do fulfill their toxicity detector roles, ethical disasters creep closer and closer. Every time I read about another ethically failed company, I ask myself, what was the HR Department doing as the organization snowballed to disaster?

Lipman-Blumen, J. (2005). The allure of toxic leaders: Why we follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians–and how we survive them. New YorK: Oxford University Press.

This post is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, “The Art of HR”. For my final Doctoral project, I researched how Top Employers provide effective HR services to their organizations. I compiled my results into this book. Please email me directly if you would like a copy.

Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor

The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) has just released its latest report entitled “The Future of HR: The Transition to Performance Advisor”. This report combines the results of an i4cp survey of 384 business leaders, with interviews of more than 70 senior HR leaders of large organizations (i.e., GE, Kelly Services, Flextronics, T-Mobile, Adobe, Hyatt, Blue Cross etc.).

HR is an enigmatic profession, as the authors write, “the sad reality is—even in today’s enlightened age of recognizing the value of people to the business—too many top executives still view HR as a non-strategic cost center instead of a core, profit-contributing function.” HR Professionals need to act as performance advisors to the business, in order to become that core, profit contributing function.

HR Professionals estimate that they spend about 25% of their time on non-strategic activities, while non-HR respondents estimate that HR Professionals actually spend less than 10% of their time on strategic activities. This disparity is confirmed time and time again by researchers who study HR. Unfortunately, HR views itself as being more effective than it really is. This drives me crazy, and I think our entire profession needs to do a better job of evaluating the true effectiveness of our initiatives. We also should not be offended when operations leaders demand the details of the effectiveness of the initiatives we roll out.

I was intrigued by the discussion on generalists/business partners. Most HR Departments have developed a matrix HR Structure with Generalists (Advisors or Business Partners) mixed with Specialists (in Centers of Excellence, aka COEs). What gets confusing is when turf wars evolve between these areas, within the HR Department. Who trumps who? This report argues that the COEs must support/enable the business partners to do their work, and that the business partners are the most important part of the HR department. HR departments become dysfunctional when that “support” is confused with regulating the organization. Nothing is more frustrating to an Operations Manager than having to fight its own HR Department while trying to get something done.

Another common frustration with HR Departments is regarding metrics. Measuring the people side of the business is tough. That difficulty can’t be an excuse though, but HR must be careful it provides information to the organization, not just data. HR Professionals must be “data storytellers.” These HR metrics must not be solely for HR, they must be business metrics as well.

Based on its research, i4cp believes that the top competencies for future HR professionals include: strategic thinking, strategy execution, in-depth business knowledge, business acumen, strategy development, business ethics, organizational development, decision-making, team work, and technology / information systems. HR Professionals who develop these competencies will thrive in future organizations. HR Professionals who do not, will most likely (I would add will hopefully) be left behind and/or forced out of the profession.

Overall, this report is useful when combined with other recent publications by Dave Ulrich and various consulting firms on the state of HR. It especially dovetails well with Ulrich’s latest work, HR From the Outside-In. HR is an easy profession to poke fun at and criticize, and this report does not hold back in some of those criticisms. Thankfully, it doesn’t stop there, and it provides an invaluable discussion on the role of HR.

The report itself includes much more than what I cited here. I encourage you to read it and apply the challenges it outlines throughout. I suspect that if HR leaders really heeded its advice, the HR Profession would exponentially grow in influence in the next few years.

Note: You do need to be a member of the i4cp to download the entire report. I was provided with an advance copy of this report to review. I was not reimbursed for this review and have no direct affiliation with the authors or with the i4cp.

Book Review: HR from the Outside In (Dave Ulrich)

Could Dave Ulrich write a bad book if he tried? I don’t think he could, and Ulrich’s latest work keeps up his long trend of successful books that encapsulate the HR profession. HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources is Ulrich’s latest work (co-authored with Jon Younger, Wayne Brockbank and Mike Ulrich). This book summarizes the findings from Ulrich’s recent survey of HR Professionals. This survey is one of the largest surveys done worldwide, and Ulrich publishes the results every five years.


This book argues that HR has evolved in five “waves”:

  • HR Administration – Emphasis on the administrative and transactional work by HR.
  • HR Practices – Innovation in specialized areas of HR (i.e., compensation, recruitment, training).
  • HR Strategy – Integration of HR and business practices.
  • HR Outside-In – HR moves beyond strategy to align its work with business context and stakeholders

The last wave is extremely important to note, and HR Professionals who fail to change to this perspective will soon be left behind. It is simply not acceptable for an HR Professional to be content with processing transactions.

This book also argues that HR Professionals will require six competencies to thrive in today’s business world. These competencies include:

  • Strategic Positioner – This is much more than just “knowing” the business. HR Professionals must be able to position their organization to anticipate and match external implications and bolster their organization’s competitive advantage.
  • Credible Activist – HR Professionals must be internal activists, but they must focus their time and attention on issues that actually matter to the organization. They must be true professionals and be able to influence others and generate results in everything they do.
  • Capability Builder – HR Professionals must be able to align strategy, culture, practices and behavior; must create a meaningful work environment; and must must find and capitalize on all the organization’s capabilities.
  • Change Champion – Most corporate change efforts start with enthusiasm and end with cynicism. HR Professionals must help the organization counter that trend by helping it diagnose issues and learn from past failures.
  • HR Innovator and Integrator – HR Professionals must ensure the organization has the right talent and leadership for the current and future success of the organization.It must develop innovative HR practices that drive the talent agenda of the organization.
  • Technology Proponent – All organizations seem to have difficulty in handling and transferring the massive amounts of information they accumulate. This is especially true in HR, and HR Professionals must find ways to effectively use technology to understand and strengthen the talent within the organization.

I read this book shortly after it was released and found myself intrigued by the insights throughout it. The authors have the enviable ability to articulate what is on the minds of HR Professionals worldwide. They are not content to just complain about all the problems in HR. Rather, they challenge the profession to understand its value and aim as high as possible. That is exciting for someone like myself, who is still in the early stages of his HR career.

HR from the Outside-In includes a wealth of resources, case studies, and information that are too plentiful to mention here. In my opinion, it is the most valuable and insightful book on HR available, and it should be mandatory reading for every HR Professional, and aspiring HR Professional. I also think it is Dave Ulrich’s best work to date, which is no small accomplishment. If even a fraction of HR Professionals develop the six competencies listed above, the HR Profession has an extremely bright future ahead of it.

I purchased this copy myself and have no affiliation with the authors.

Ulrich, D., Younger, J., Brockbank, W. & Ulrich, M. (2012). HR from the outside-in: Six competencies for the future of human resources. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Employee Engagement in Canada

Employee engagement is confusing. A recent Aon Hewitt survey found that overall employee engagement has increased slightly in Canada. Interesting enough, the recent survey found that employees were slightly more satisfied with their pay, but slightly less satisfied with processes at their work.

Canadian HR Reporter interviewed Neil Crawford, one of the authors of this survey. Crawford sates:

“High employee engagement is strongly correlated with a range of productivity-related measures such as revenue per employee, absenteeism and turnover,” he said. “Highly engaged employees have slightly more than one-half of the absenteeism of disengaged employees. This translates into an average difference of about six days per employee per year. If the total annual employee cost is $40,000, the productivity savings for high engagement could be as high as $1,000 per employee, per year from absenteeism alone.”

I love the fact that we are seeing some hard metrics attached to traditionally “soft” measures life engagement. Studies like this will help all HR Professionals benchmark their organizations and create better arguments for implementing “soft” measures. We can’t settle for “just because…” arguments when we (HR) propose initiatives, and must be prepared to answer the inevitable ROI and “why” questions.

Check out the story on Canadian HR Reporter here.